Alabama Army National Guard Welcomes First Black Female Pilot

 

2LT Kayla Freeman at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., June 21, 2018, after her graduation from aviation school. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

2LT Kayla Freeman at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, Ala., June 21, 2018, after her graduation from aviation school. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)


FORT RUCKER, Ala. – When Second Lieutenant (2LT) Kayla Freeman wore her wings for the first time on the stage of Fort Rucker’s Army Aviation school, she didn’t consider how historically impactful the moment was.

2LT Freeman, whose June 21 graduation made her the first black female pilot in the Alabama Army National Guard, says she “didn’t think about making history when I started this journey. I just wanted to do the best that I could do and hopefully inspire a few people along the way.”

That’s a goal she has also accomplished, evidenced by 2LT Freeman being inundated with congratulations, well-wishes, and messages of appreciation in the few weeks after her achievement.

2LT Freeman says she was honored to have her wings pinned by a longtime hero and fellow history-maker, retired Colonel (COL) Christine “Nickey” Knighton, who was the second black woman in the Department of Defense to earn her aviator wings, the first from Georgia, and the first woman in the U.S. Army to command a tactical combat arms battalion.

“COL Knighton has been an inspiration to me since college,” 2LT Freeman says. “I felt that it was only right to have her pin me.”

Retired COL Christine Knighton pins aviator wings on 2LT Kayla Freeman at Freeman’s graduation from the Army Aviation school, June 21, 2018, at Fort Rucker, Ala. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

Retired COL Christine Knighton pins aviator wings on 2LT Kayla Freeman at Freeman’s graduation from the Army Aviation school, June 21, 2018, at Fort Rucker, Ala. (U.S. Army photo by 1LT Jermaine Thurston.)

2LT Freeman also lists COL Knighton as one of her main role models, along with her own grandfather, and the pioneering female Tuskegee Airmen like Mildred Carter.

Like COL Knighton before her, 2LT Freeman’s inspirations led her to attend Tuskegee University and enroll in the historic institute’s ROTC program. She says she knew since she was a child that she wanted to fly, and says it was discipline, perseverance, and faith that helped her achieve that goal.

“You can’t let mistakes and setbacks keep you down,” she says. “Learn from them and continue moving forward. Most importantly, keep God first, and He will direct your path.”

Major General (MG) Sheryl Gordon applauded 2LT Freeman’s historic accomplishment. MG Gordon is the first female general officer in the Alabama National Guard, and is now the first female to serve as its adjutant general.

“We take the ideals of equal opportunity very seriously,” MG Gordon says, “and we’re extremely proud of 2LT Freeman’s achievements. She is further proof that we don’t see race or gender in the Alabama Guard – we see Soldiers and Airmen and their potential. She has worked very hard to earn those wings, and that’s a great example for all of us.”

Currently at Fort Hood preparing to deploy to the Middle East as a platoon leader in the Alabama Army National Guard’s 1-169th Aviation Battalion, 2LT Freeman’s mind is on the mission. After that, she says, her plans are simple: keep going.

“I just plan to continue to develop my skills as an officer and aviator, as well as mentoring others,” she says.

In her civilian career, 2LT Freeman is an aerospace engineer at U.S. Army Aviation Development Test Activity at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

If you’re interested in defending the skies and controlling some of the most advanced aircraft in the world, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding career in aviation.

The Guard offers training in more than 150 careers, all of which can be researched on our job board by State, category, or keyword. Learn more about how you can serve part-time in the National Guard and take advantage of its benefits like money for college by contacting your local recruiter.

From an original article by SPC Cody Muzio and SFC Myra Bush, which appeared in the news section of Army.mil in July.

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Australian Native Comes ‘Full Circle’ as D.C. Army Guard Vocalist

SGT Vicki Golding

SGT Vicki Golding, a vocalist with the District of Columbia Army National Guard’s 257th Army Band, sings the Australian national anthem as part of the Centenary of Mateship celebration during the Twilight Tattoo on June 27, 2018, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. SGT Golding, an Australian native who now lives in the U.S., also performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “I Am Australian” at the event, which commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the partnership between the United States and Australia established during World War I. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith.)

ARLINGTON, Va. – For Sergeant (SGT) Vicki Golding, a vocalist with the District of Columbia Army National Guard’s 257th Army Band, performing during the recent Centenary of Mateship celebration event was, in a way, about coming full circle.

The celebration, held in Virginia, marked the 100-year alliance between the United States and Australia, and was a fitting opportunity for SGT Golding, a Brisbane, Australia, native who now lives in the U.S.

“In terms of representing both countries, this event felt like it was ready-made for me,” says SGT Golding, who was approached by Australian Embassy officials to perform at the event once they learned she was vocalist in the D.C. Army Guard.

“It wasn’t lost on me on what a big deal this was for a girl from Brisbane – ending up here in D.C. with the best military band in the country.”

Her journey from “Down Under” to singing in the 257th Army Band started in childhood where she was part of a family musical act with her three sisters and brother. Her father, whom SGT Golding described as the “essential music man,” led the group.

“My father was a music teacher and an opera singer and was a very technical musician. He was just the sort of person [who] would make you want to do better.”

While the music bug subsided for her siblings, SGT Golding’s love of performing continued.

Following the footsteps of a high school friend, she enlisted in the Australian army as a musician, eventually landing a position as a vocalist.

When the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” performed during an international tattoo (military entertainment performance) in Brisbane, SGT Golding says she was captivated by the variety of music they played.

“They had a rock band and a rhythm section along with the trombone section,” she says, adding she felt she was witnessing the “sheer talent of a premier band.”

Years later, marriage to an American brought her to the Washington, D.C., area.

Though she had left the Australian army, SGT Golding says she was still interested in serving and performing. That led her to reach out to Soldiers she knew from “Pershing’s Own,” who suggested the 257th Army Band as a good fit.

She followed the suggestion and enlisted in the Guard in 2003, even though the band didn’t have a singer vacancy at the time.

“When I first joined the 257th, I had videos and demos of me singing, and I said, ‘Look, I can play tuba, I can play percussion, but I really want to sing for you guys.’”

Eventually, a vocalist position opened up, and she wasted no time in securing her new role. Now, SGT Golding performs more than 35 shows a year, representing the D.C. Army Guard and the Army as a vocalist.

She says she thrives off the excitement of large-scale shows, especially in stadiums when she sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“It’s a sacred piece that never gets old because there’s this energy that comes from the audience. You can feel the audience just waiting for you to sing it to them.”

But it was a military funeral for a D.C. Guard member lost in battle that she will never forget.

“I was singing the national anthem, maybe 10 feet away was his family, and I remember struggling.”

Years of performing in uniform, however, provided the focus needed to sing the song through.

“They had just lost their family member,” says SGT Golding. “If I can’t suck it up for 90 seconds, be professional, and do my job when they lost just about everything – that’s just not acceptable to me.”

SGT Golding brings that same kind of discipline and love of music to the civilian side, volunteering at non-profit organizations that cater to military spouses and veterans who use musical therapy to treat post-traumatic stress.

“I have been blessed with musical abilities, and any time I feel I am not using them, I feel like I am wasting something that was given to me,” she says. “And so I want to share what I have been given, whether it’s performing, teaching, or writing musical arrangements – whatever that might be.”

SGT Golding adds that her civilian experiences working with non-profit organizations, plus keeping abreast of popular music trends, help broaden her horizons as a military vocalist.

“It’s not a bad thing to think outside of the box,” she says. “Because if things aren’t flexible, they’ll break sometimes.”

While SGT Golding says the pinnacle of her musical ambition is performing on a network show back in her native country, she is thrilled with being a singing Soldier and sharing the same kind of camaraderie in the D.C. Army Guard as she felt in Australia.

“The common thread between the two militaries is the sense of family,” she says. “It was a real lifeline for me in Australia, and the same is true here in America.”

So if you’re looking for a way to use your talents and work on a team that becomes like a second family, consider joining the Army National Guard, where you can be an Army Bandperson like SGT Golding, or just about anything else you can imagine.

That’s because the Guard offers training in more than 150 careers, and you can research all of them on our job board by State, category, or keyword. Learn more about how you can serve part-time in the Guard and take advantage of its benefits like money for college by contacting your local recruiter.

From an original article by Tech. Sgt. Erich Smith, National Guard Bureau, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in June.

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How I Got My College Degree for Free

The Army National Guard Paid for It

Between the Army National Guard’s Federal tuition assistance, State tuition assistance, and GI Bill, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Ryan West earned his bachelor’s degree for free.

He estimates that between the special military rates offered by the schools he attended and the Guard’s education benefits, he has saved $30,000 to $40,000 in tuition and fees.

Without the Guard picking up the tab, SFC West’s other options to pay for school were using his GI Bill from his previous active duty service in the Army or student loans.

SFC Ryan West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

SFC Ryan West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

“I was raised in a single-parent home, there just wasn’t money for college,” he explains.

SFC West, a Medical Readiness Non-Commissioned Officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard, has had a few stops and starts on his way to earning that degree. He had started college before joining the Army in 1998, but, “It didn’t work out for me. The money wasn’t there, plus I wasn’t that disciplined.”

So, he joined the military, something he had wanted to do since he was a child.

“I’m from a small town, Hopkins, South Carolina, so I wanted to get out and see the world, see new places, and meet new people,” says SFC West. “And, of course, defend my country. There’s nothing like it. You get a great reward from serving.”

After leaving active duty in 2002, SFC West wanted to continue his service, so he joined the Guard because he liked the idea of serving part-time, especially so he could go back to school.

But then he deployed to Iraq, which marked a complete turnaround in how he looked at his career.

“Prior to that, I was just a traditional Guardsman, just going through the motions, coming to drill. I didn’t really have aspirations of going higher in the ranks or being better than what I was.”

Experiencing what he did while deployed in Iraq as a 68W Healthcare Specialist (combat medic) – the inhumanity of war and even meeting new people from different places, made him realize he could reach higher.

It was after coming home that SFC West realized all of the Guard benefits he could use to complete his degree.

“You get funds from three different sources, which is great,” SFC West says. “You don’t get that in the Reserves, and you don’t get that in the regular Army.”

The Guard offers Federal tuition assistance. Plus, each State or Territory offers State tuition assistance, but note that each State or Territory has its own rules and policies. Finally, the GI Bill can pick up the tab for books, fees, or really anything. This money is a monthly expense allowance paid directly to the student, not the school.

 

SFC West and his family at his college graduation.

Armed with all of these financial resources and a renewed sense of purpose, SFC West re-started his studies at Limestone College in South Carolina, but then decided to take a full-time job with the Guard. As 2014 came into view, he decided to go back to school “to finish this thing before I retire,” finally earning his bachelor’s in organizational leadership from the University of South Carolina.

And, he might not be done using up all those education benefits. He still has some of his post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to transfer to his children, and he can still use the Guard’s tuition assistance to earn a master’s degree he’s thinking about getting.

His advice for anyone joining the Guard is: “Let the Guard get the most out of you, and you get the most out of the Guard.”

And that means taking advantage of all the opportunities it offers, including making the most of the education benefits.

“That paycheck means nothing if you stay five or six years and you don’t have a degree – a free degree,” he says.

So if you’re looking for a way to pay for college, or even vocational school, the Guard offers those benefits and more, like training in careers ranging from medicine and engineering to field artillery and logistics. You can explore all of the Guard’s career fields on our job board.

And, for personalized advice, including specifics on your State’s education benefits because the information varies from State to State, contact your local recruiter.

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